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IN SHORT: More stars than you can shake a stick at but a lesser Allen comedy. [Rated PG-13 for some sexual content. 104 minutes]
We walked out of our screening of Woody Allen's Curse of the Jade Dragon thinking "that was a pleasurable experience." Note: the film is set in 1940, while our parents were barely out of diapers. As we reset our time frame through the decades, we also remembered that "pleasant experience" was the advertising slogan for a brand of cigarettes in the 1960s. Cigarettes will kill you. Woody Allen movies, at least 98% of 'em, will make you laugh. Curse of the Jade Scorpion is short on belly laughs but long on adult chuckles. Woody has taken his time to write gags which seem to wander out into the ozone before slamming you with the punchline.
Allen is one of the few writer/directors who can do that. Even when the story is thin -- and this one is as thin as an old radio drama -- we know there's gold to be found hidden in the characters and relationships. Thus has it ever been. So is it now.
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, as much as it sounds like the title of an old The Shadow story, takes its title from a stage magician's prop, used to hypnotize volunteers (willing or not) from an audience. In this particular case, the volunteers are not particularly willing. They are CW Briggs (Woody Allen) and Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), out celebrating the 50th birthday of coworker George Bond (Wallace Shawn). Briggs is the ace investigator for the company. Fitzgerald is the efficiency expert intent on farming out his position as an unnecessary expense. That they don't like each other -- he the middle aged shlub, she the young fashionable smarter and sexier superior -- is a given. When both are prodded onto stage to be hypnotized by The Mighty Voltan (David Ogden Stiers), they both disavow their ability to be put under, but that's a joke. With the simple suggestion of a single word, "Constantinople," the pair are made to behave as if they are hopelessly in love with each other. Totally under the control of suggestions made at the command of the "Jade Scorpion," when it's all done, they don't remember any of it and head home for the night.
Briggs' phone rings in the middle of the night, and a deep voice speaks the word "Constantinople". The Jade Scorpion (Voltan, of course) orders his new lackey to get all the security plans for the mansion of a millionaire client and ransack the joint. With the hypnotic suggestion still in place, the job goes off without a hitch. The next day Briggs, being the company's number one investigator, sets his nose to the pavement to ferret out the bad guys in this obvious inside job. Then it happens again and Briggs faces his biggest dilemma, as Fitzgerald brings in the outside investigators he had feared were making a play for his job.
Voltan isn't stupid, either. He did, after all, hypnotize two helpless victims, who work in the same place and have the same access to the same sensitive information. And who hate each other's guts. You figure out the rest.
As with most Woody Allen movies, his cast is bursting with significant names in smaller parts. All folks who want to work with a comedic master. In this case Elizabeth Berkley plays Jill, an office worker who has all the men in her office thinking nasty thoughts. She may knows she is making 'em crazy, yet she's a good girl and always goes home alone. Charlize Theron plays Laura Kensington, daughter of the millionaire who is the first victim of the Scorpion. Laura is a molten beauty and knows it. For a change of pace, she decides to slum with the insurance guy, with surprising results.
How did Mel Brooks put it? "It's good to be King!" It's good to be Woody Allen. He always gets the good looking actresses, at least in his movies.
Last up is Dan Aykroyd, who is the boss of the insurance company. He's got secrets of his own, which we won't spill.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Curse of the Jade Dragon, he would have paid . . .
'cuz we're a fan and we'd go. It's sort of like being a James Bond movie fan. We haven't seen very many good Bond films in the last fifteen years, yet we still go out time and time again. Woody Allen, even when he's playing a three note symphony, brings us a top name cast and enough gags to keep us relatively fist deep in the popcorn bucket.
Everyone else, rent.
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